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Trauma rooted in systemic poverty, racism and inequality is at the heart of much of the violence happening in Milwaukee, experts believe. One way the city is combating violence, which spiked in 2015, is by building the capacity of organizations operating violence prevention programs “focused on elevating non-traditional healing and mental health,” according to Reggie Moore, director of the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) in the Milwaukee Heath Department.

The department was awarded a $5 million Resiliency in Communities after Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) grant in September 2016 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Flood the Hood with Dreams/I Will Not Die Young was one of the organizations selected to receive a grant through the program. It was awarded $12,500 in the first year.

The other direct service grantees are Employ Milwaukee ($170,000), Running Rebels ($100,000), The Parenting Network ($50,000) and My Sista’s KeepHer ($12,500). Moore said these organizations have also been approved for funding in the second year of the five-year grant, though he did not disclose the amounts they will receive.

Milwaukee is one of eight cities to be awarded the ReCAST grant. The others are Oakland, Chicago, Baltimore, Flint, Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Antonio. All ReCAST cities must be approved annually based on performance, impact and federal priorities. “SAMSHA has praised our progress in year one and we were successfully approved for year two,” Moore wrote in an email.

The purpose of the program is to assist high-risk youth and families and promote resilience in communities that have recently faced civil unrest. Strategies include implementing evidence-based violence prevention and youth engagement programs, as well as linking youth and families to trauma-informed behavioral health services, according to the SAMHSA website.

Running Rebels’ Be The Change” program was started in 2010 to address the black male academic achievement gap, according to the organization’s co-director, Dawn Barnett. Until it received the ReCAST grant, the educational support initiative for high school boys was only offered in summer. This fall the nonprofit launched its first year-round program with a cohort of 32 boys.

“When it was just a summer program, we struggled to stay in contact with these boys all year and keep them engaged,” said Ptosha Davis, program director.

Be The Change focuses on academic support and character and leadership development as well as building relationships with adult mentors. Beginning last summer, 64 participants worked at Earn & Learn jobs through Employ Milwaukee in the mornings. The program also includes recreational, cultural and enrichment activities.

Davis said Be The Change has worked with more than 350 boys over the seven-plus years of the program, with a 98 percent retention rate. The goal for next summer is 100 boys.

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